A Master Of Science Visualization Animates Deadly Viruses

Using the Protein Data Bank, an illustrator puts a new spin on molecular science.


Twenty-three-year-old Seattle-based designer Eleanor Lutz is one of our favorite practitioners of the art of the science visualization, but it’s been a while since we last heard from her. Her latest work was worth the wait, though: four beautiful animated infographics about deadly viruses, designed to look like trading cards.


Describing viruses as “a biological version of snowflakes,” Lutz designed trading cards for dengue (a close relative of Zika and yellow fever), adenovirus (which causes the common cold), chlorella (a strange virus that only affects green algae, and feeds them food), and HPV (which is linked to cervical cancer). Each virus has a five-fold symmetry, meaning they each have an icosahedral shape. All of the trading cards were designed in UCSF Chimera, a molecular modeling program, based upon data from the Protein Data Bank.


Although she calls them trading cards, Lutz says we shouldn’t expect a complete set anytime soon, nor is she planning on printing them out. “I’m not actually planning on turning the animations into printed cards, but I’d like to eventually make a couple more of them at some point,” she says by email.

Too bad. I would back a Kickstarter campaign for a complete set of Virus Trading Cards with special lenticular holograms that animate when you turn them between your fingers. Still, Lutz says she hopes to continue the series with more viruses some day, even if they only exist as GIFs on the web. “There are a lot of awesome virus types that I didn’t get to show here, like bacteriophages and asymmetric viruses,” she says.

More of Lutz’s data visualization work can be found at her website, Tabletop Whale.